More than half the workers who lost their jobs Tuesday had worked for Trans World Airlines before American parent AMR Corp. bought TWA out of bankruptcy in 2001.
In St. Louis, TWA's longtime home, and other bases around the country, flight attendants finishing their last day of work turned in uniforms, identification badges and keys.
"Of course it's a difficult day, but we understand these furloughs are needed to keep American Airlines on the path back to profitability," company spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross said.
In e-mails, workers facing unemployment said they fear losing their homes and wonder how to pay for health care. A few said they were facing bankruptcy. Others will manage, they said, but miss their work.
Maura Sanders of Arlington, Texas, became a flight attendant three years ago, at age 44, realizing a dream since high school.
"It was so long to get here, it hurts. It's hard to let a dream die," Sanders said. She hopes to find work at a commuter airline.
Chris Bailey was also nearing his third anniversary on the job. His last flight was Sunday, from Vancouver, British Columbia, back home to Dallas.
"The way home was kind of somber. I kind of feel let down by the company, but seniority matters," said Bailey, 23, who plans to collect unemployment while job-hunting.
Most of those laid off Tuesday will get final paychecks by July 15.
Separately, American said Tuesday it was nearing decisions on cutting more flights and closing some facilities. The airline has already parked 57 planes since last year and plans to idle 57 more within a year.
"We will not be able to fly every nonstop route we fly today, nor will we be able to provide the same level of service in markets that cannot profitably support our current flight schedule," said chief executive Gerard Arpey.
American is expected to close one or more of its maintenance facilities in Fort Worth, Tulsa, Okla., and Kansas City, Mo. The company is also reviewing call volume at its eight U.S. reservations centers.
The 3,123 layoffs, which were to be completed early Wednesday, were sealed in May when American and its employees agreed to $1.8 billion in annual labor cost reductions to keep the company out of bankruptcy.
The concessions, including pay cuts of 15 percent to 23 percent, were approved in contentious voting by unions representing flight attendants, pilots and ground workers.
American said service would not affected by the layoffs. About 900 flight attendants were being transferred to St. Louis beginning Wednesday to replace the laid-off TWA workers.
Former TWA employees bore the brunt of the layoffs - 1,780 lost their jobs - because they lost in a power struggle between two union groups after AMR bought TWA.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, representing American's workers, placed former TWA attendants at the bottom of the seniority list, making them the first to be hit by layoffs no matter how long they had worked for TWA.
The former TWA flight attendants - led by a union board member from St. Louis - went to federal court in New York to block the layoffs, but Judge Carol Bagley Amon on Monday rejected their request for an injunction. Former TWA workers are still pursuing a lawsuit against American and the president of the flight attendants' union. They charge, in part, that employee voting on the labor concessions was tainted.
Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR, which has lost more than $6 billion since the beginning of 2001, has cut 6,000 flight attendant jobs since October 2001.
By David Koenig